Football: Brotherly love and rivalry in the Singapore Premier League

Footballers Ryhan (right) and Harhys Stewart are the only brothers who play on the same team. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - Sportsmen often refer to their teammates as "brothers", but for footballers Ryhan and Harhys Stewart, it is more than a tired cliche.

Both play for the Young Lions in the Singapore Premier League (SPL), and are in contention to feature when they take on Tanjong Pagar United in the league's first game for almost two months on Saturday (July 17).

The pair form a rare partnership in the SPL as the only brothers who play on the same team. They say this gives them a natural chemistry on the field - almost "telepathic", according to Ryhan.

"Harhys can tell when I want to make runs, and he'll know when to play the ball. Likewise, I'll know when he needs me to support in defence."

Off the pitch, Harhys, 20, credits his more experienced older brother for helping him assimilate into the team, and improve as a player.

The 21-year-old Ryhan, who plays at right-back, has featured in more than twice the number of games as defensive midfielder Harhys so far in their fledgling careers.

"When I joined the team, it was much easier to get used to playing as I always had support from my brother," Harhys said.

Playing and training together has also allowed the brothers, whose father is Welsh and mother is a Malay Singaporean, to identify and plug gaps in their game that would otherwise remain hidden.

"We aren't afraid to spot each other's mistakes and call them out because we're brothers," said Harhys.

Ryhan added: "We hold each other accountable, and reflect together, so ultimately that helps us improve. You wouldn't be so blunt with another teammate."

However, as with all brothers, disagreements do happen.

Ryhan says he is hard on his brother to push him to improve, but his critiques are not always well-received.

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"We recently got into a small 'fight', and (Harhys) asked me to stop scolding him so much on the field," he recounted.

Though tensions occasionally boil over, the brothers say they hold no grudges.

Harhys added: "It can get annoying to always have (Ryhan) on my back, but obviously he does it out of love and he wants to push me to my best. Sometimes in the moment, I may not be the nicest, but at the end of the day we know it's all good intentions."

The Stewarts are not the only pair of brothers in the SPL this season - there are three across the league.

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Adam and Amer Hakeem are another pair of brothers playing professional football in Singapore. Both are centre-backs, and play for Geylang International and Balestier Khalsa respectively.

The pair say they relish the chance to face each other, as they are motivated to constantly outdo each other. They got the chance to do just that when Balestier trumped Geylang 2-1 on April 7.

"It was great to play against Amer - we actually went to the game together," said Adam, 24, who is two years older.

"As brothers, we have added motivation to do better than each other. I wanted to show as an older brother that I'm a leader, and I can play better than him."

Amer said that as brothers, their keen knowledge of each other's weaknesses was a tactical advantage.

"Since we know each other so well, there's always some weakness we can look to exploit. Sometimes I'll tell my teammates how to defend Adam too, if I'm not marking him," he remarked.

For Adam and Amer, football is not just a career; it is a family affair. Their father Nazri Nasir was captain of the national team from 1997 to 2003, and skippered the Lions to Singapore's first major piece of international silverware, the 1998 Tiger Cup (now known as the AFF Suzuki Cup).

The brothers say their father's leadership qualities and tenacity has rubbed off on them.

Amer said: "Our dad always tells us to be aggressive, and to command on the pitch. We don't feel restricted despite our young age, he's taught us to lead on the pitch."

While they have yet to play on the same team as professionals, Adam says it would be a dream for him to play alongside his brother, as he thinks they could form a fearsome defensive partnership.

"Our games are quite complementary. While I'm a more aggressive player, Amer is more calm and analytical, and those qualities are what you want in a centre-back pairing."

Not all brothers are keen on playing for the same team, however.

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Aqil Yazid, 17, says he would be "overwhelmed" at the prospect of seeing his brother Aizil both at home and on the field. The 16-year-old Aizil echoed these sentiments.

"We're competitive. I always want to be better than him, to play on a better team than him, so we'll probably be on different teams," joked Aizil.

Aqil plays centre-back for Balestier while Aizil is a goalkeeper for Hougang United, and they follow in the footsteps of their father, former SPL goalkeeper Yazid Yasin.

The 42-year-old, who earned one cap for Singapore and now serves as goalkeeping coach for Balestier, enjoyed an illustrious career in the S- League, spanning 20 years. While the brothers are eager to replicate their father's success, they are even more determined to forge their own legacies.

Aizil said: "I know people will always have certain expectations of us, but I'm not pressured by it. I want people to talk about me because I'm a good player, not because of my dad.

"At the end of the day, I want to be known as myself, not my father's successor."

Aqil similarly takes the lofty expectations in his stride, adding: "I take it as a challenge to be better than him, and of course better than my brother.

"My dad has made a name for himself, and we are going to work hard to make a name for ourselves," he resolved.

Tanjong Pagar v Young Lions

Singtel TV Ch111 & StarHub Ch201, Saturday, 5.20 pm

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